The Alfred Hitchcock Path to FI

Running from 1955 to 1965 Alfred Hitchcock, the famous director of The Birds and Psycho, had a weekly TV series. It was focused on crime, mostly murder. If you have cable, you can catch these as reruns even today. It is surprising how well they hold up, at least for me, in our modern day.

Recently an episode from 1959 titled Not the Running Type appeared and, while I remember many from my childhood, this one was new to me. It is an instructive lesson in compounding interest and early retirement. Creative early retirement.

Maybe it was buried in my subconscious. Maybe this is the root behind the investing path I took.

Pull up a chair here by the fire and after I light my pipe, I’ll tell you the tale as best I can.

Or you can just google it and watch for yourself.

Not the Running Type

Back in 1947, Milton Potter was a low level clerk for the firm Metro Investments. He’d been there for 13 years and was still only making $60 a week. That’s $3120 per year. 

Mr. Potter is a quiet man almost to the point of invisibility. Indeed one day when he doesn’t show up for work, as unusual as that is for him, it takes three days for anyone to notice. 

Or care. At least until another clerk reports that Mr. Potter’s books don’t balance. $200,000 has gone missing along with him. That certainly gets their attention.

At first, he is nowhere to be found. They search his apartment but find little of note other than travel books and brochures. 

Then out of the blue he walks into the police station and turns himself in. He freely confesses to the embezzlement but steadfastly refuses to say what happened to the money. 

He is promptly tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

He spends most of his time in prison reading travel books. Quiet and assuming there as at work, he gets three years off for good behavior and is released 12 years later in 1959. His arresting officer is waiting.

The officer figures Mr. Potter has been planning for this day when he’ll retrieve the $200,000 and live happily ever after. He is not going to let that happen on his watch.

Visiting Mr. Potter the officer informs him that, while he has served his time, in no way does that mean he can keep the money.

They verbally, and rather cordially, fence back and forth a bit. It is all very civilized. 

Then Mr. Potter points to the suitcase on the bed and invites the officer to open it. There, in neat bundles, is the $200,000 in full and in cash. He has decided to return it.

The now very puzzled officer collects it and leaves. Mr. Potter has served his time and has returned the money. It would be hard to imagine a case more closed than that.

The final scene is on a luxury ocean liner headed for Hawaii. Mr. Potter is on his way to France, the long way around. He is sitting in a lounge chair on deck, watching the pretty girls play shuffleboard and drinking champagne with another passenger. 

“I always wanted to travel when I retired,” he tells his new acquaintance. 

“How did you manage to retire with taxes being what they are these days?” (Some things never change.)

“Did you ever stop to think,” says Mr. Potter, “how much $200,000 earns in 12 years in interest compounded quarterly in various carefully selected savings banks? One hundred fifty four thousand eight hundred sixty two dollars and twenty five cents.” (Gotta love the post-depression investing approach!)  

“Yes, but how does one come up with the $200,000?”

“Well, you could borrow it,” says Mr. Potter. “Like I did.”

So, our Mr. Potter invested $200,000 of his employer’s money, and 12 years of his life, for a return of $154,862.25. Using our 4% rule, he can now live on $6194.49 a year for the rest of his life. Almost twice his annual salary.

Rarely if ever do I recall a criminal getting away with it in Hitchcock’s weekly plays. But Mr. Potter does. Maybe old Alfred had a soft spot for the concept of reaching Financial Independence. I know I do.



If you are anything like me, you are wondering what those 1947 and 1959 dollars look like after inflation here in 2021. So let’s fire up our inflation calculator and see…

















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Important Resources

  • Talent Stacker is a resource that I learned about through my work with Jonathan and Brad at ChooseFI, and first heard about Salesforce as a career option in an episode where they featured Bradley Rice on the Podcast. In that episode, Bradley shared how he reached FI quickly thanks to his huge paychecks and discipline in keeping his expenses low. Jonathan teamed up with Bradley to build Talent Stacker, and they have helped more than 1,000 students from all walks of life complete the program and land jobs like clockwork, earning double or even triple their old salaries using a Salesforce certification to break into a no-code tech career.
  • Credit Cards are like chain saws. Incredibly useful. Incredibly dangerous. Resolve to pay in full each month and never carry a balance. Do that and they can be great tools. Here are some of the very best for travel hacking, cash back and small business rewards.
  • Empower is a free tool to manage and evaluate your investments. With great visuals you can track your net worth, asset allocation, and portfolio performance, including costs. At a glance you'll see what's working and what you might want to change. Here's my full review.
  • Betterment is my recommendation for hands-off investors who prefer a DIFM (Do It For Me) approach. It is also a great tool for reaching short-term savings goals. Here is my Betterment Review
  • NewRetirement offers cool tools to help guide you in answering the question: Do I have enough money to retire? And getting started is free. Sign up and you will be offered two paths into their retirement planner. I was also on their podcast and you can check that out here:Video version, Podcast version.
  • Tuft & Needle (T&N) helps me sleep at night. They are a very cool company with a great product. Here’s my review of what we are currently sleeping on: Our Walnut Frame and Mint Mattress.


  1. Tony says

    I once ‘forgot’ about a pension I was paying into. Back in 1990 I started a private pension (I was living in the UK) and payed into it for about 3 years. The private pension is a little like a 401k for our US friends. After a job change, I stopped paying into it and forgot about it.

    Life happened and I changed jobs again, emigrated to the USA, more life happened and the pension faded into my past. Just recently I was reminded of it and called the provider in the UK to find out what the status was. Now I don’t recall how much I payed into this thing, but it was for about 3 years so it was maybe a few thousand pounds, but imagine my surprise when I discovered its currently value is a shade under seventy thousand pounds or at the current exchange rate, about a hundred thousand dollars.

    Compound interest really is a thing, and my wife and I marvel at this quite often as we track our progress to FI, but this was a major surprise. Despite two recessions (2000 & 2008) and a pandemic, that initial and small contribution has turned into something quite significant, due to ~30 years of compound interest.

    It leaves me wishing my younger self had put just a little more in there!

    • RobDiesel says

      That’s fantastic. I did something similar. Back in … 2012? I had quit a job, moved their 401k to my VTSAX IRA and basically forgot about it. Then I got another job, worked there 5 years and quit, rolled the 401k into that same VTSAX.

      I just looked and it’s just shy of $150K. All from just two deposits, one a decade ago and one 5-6 years later. Compounding is fantastic.

      Now I just have to figure out how to slowly trickle out of my NFLX investments (taxable account) into dividend payers without paying tax out the posterior for it. (I’m guessing selling $10K/year might do the trick).

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Like the story of the study Fidelity supposedly did looking at which group of investors in their funds did best:

      #1 Dead People
      #2 People who forgot about their investment.

      Pays to leave it alone and let it run. 🙂

    • Jake says

      Very similar thing just happened to my father in law. Forgot about a pension when he left the US for Australia in the late 80’s. My wife found it listed on a CA unclaimed monies site. Long story short the cheque is about to clear and he is one happy man! Certainly the late 1980’s to now was a great time to let it ride…

      It’s quite comical to think if he had closed it off prior to leaving the US it would have been worth a pittance and barely worthy of a mention.

      I’ll take the opportunity to thank Jim for all his work. Thank you Jim, a true legend of the personal finance world!

      Kind regards from Australia.

  2. Max @ Max Out of Pocket says

    Interesting – he clearly had all this stuff figured out way back in 1959! Mr. Potter would have only made about $37,440 in those 12 years if he had remained employed with no raises. It pays to be locked up!

    Almost reminds me of insurance premium float.


  3. RobDiesel says

    That’s a great story, and it reminds me a bit of the Swedish criminal Clark Olofsson. He was involved (somehow) in the bank robbery in Stockholm that coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome”.

    Anyway, he robbed (another) bank of a large amount of money and they only recovered a part of it. The rest was never recovered.

    I always thought that if he hadn’t been hellbent on being a career criminal, he might have had enough to retire on from that robbery.

  4. David Folts says

    Alfred Hitchcock was quite the practical joker. When you went to one of his parties, you never knew what to expect. Where to sit? Watch out for the Whoopee cushion. What’s on the menu? All the food is the color blue ( he had the cook add food coloring ). Quite the creative gentleman who liked watching how famous actors and actresses reacted to unfamiliar situations.

  5. George Choy says

    That’s a great story. Who would have thought Hitchcock was a financial coach in disguise!
    Let’s also not forget about the 🏠 property market. It also increases over the long-term, just like the stock market. My investment properties went up £160,000 last year and I’m expecting at least another £100,000 this year, plus monthly cashflow from the rents on top of that.

  6. Eric M says

    Hey JL – thanks for this! I just watched it and plan on sharing it with my wife and kids, as I have already done with your book and philosophies. By the way sir – many thanks to you and your fellow FIRE folks for spreading this information. My wife and I recently stopped pulled the plug on labor over leisure at 50 and 51 respectively. We have been preparing for the RV life, and will embark full time soon.

  7. Dr. Goh H says

    Interesting story, the lesson to learn here is all you need to do is waiting. Put your money in a good index fund and just by waiting, you can see your money grows slowly and steadily.

  8. Angie says

    What seems ironic is the fact that “He spends most of his time in prison reading travel books”. I didn’t watch the episode, but it’s hard to think that he can spend more time doing what he enjoys while in prison.

  9. Chris@TTL says

    That’s a fun way to put the power of compound interest (or market appreciation) into a story. Plenty of folks would spend far longer than 12 years to achieve a similar end. Then again, prison these days might be a bit rougher.

  10. Tech says

    Love the old Hitchcock stories. What a great one to show the power of compounding! Not sure I would take the advice to “borrow” the money. 😉

  11. Provident says

    The story works well today. The prison is often your job. The 12 years is the 8 – 12 years most people may need to work, save and invest to get to FIRE finally living off your $1,395,164 for life.

  12. vorlic says

    Thanks for the tip, Mr Collins.

    Nice timing, too, as we just finished (re)watching The Wonder Years with our two little uns. They’re excellent and we’ll probably want to watch them again some time!

    For now, though, it appears we have a new list of half-hour episodes from The Master of


  13. Patrick says

    What a great episode that was! It’s funny how many people spend decades in a prison of their own making (a job they hate) for a retirement they might not live to see..

    A big shift in my ‘retirement perspective’ came when I read a book called ‘The 100 Year Lifestyle”, which helped give me the motivation to prepare my body and finances for a long, healthy life.

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